2020-21 Player Preview: Caleb Martin

As we already underlined during the Jalen McDaniels season preview, Caleb Martin will likely be fighting with his former G-League teammate for the 10th spot in this years rotation. The motivation that can lead Borrego to choose the twin are really different from the ones we pointed out for McDaniels.

Caleb spent large part of 2019-20 season with the Greensboro Swarm, his main area of focus was that he needed to work on his shooting. Coming out from Nevada he had a very bad looking shot even if it was quite effective as he was considered a very capable scorer. With time and reps Martin tried to reach a much more sustainable motion for the NBA but the work is not finished, it will be necessary to prove his new motion can equate to an efficient shot during a real NBA season.

As is pretty obvious to say, three point shooting is the key for him to survive at this level and he needs to be comfortable with a fluid and effective shot. During last year final games of the shortened season, he produced some quite high three point percentages. Even if the sample is not very high that was a good sign for his NBA projection. In this preseason he was looking comfortable in a catch and shoot role.

Caleb, like his twin brother Cody, is capable of bringing instant energy when coming off the bench. He is more offensive minded than Cody and this could be really helpful for the Hornets during the stretch, especially in nights were the primary players aren’t performing well on the offensive side of the ball. Beyond three point shooting he has some handling ability that allows him to give some secondary creation and rim pressure with his athletic drives.

His good frame and length also allows him to be effective on the defensive end, especially because he’s able to consistently produce a high energy effort level. Caleb and his brother could really be considered the two best POA defenders on this roster right now, and that says a lot about the other members of the roster.

If he finds a good rhythm during the year he could be a perfect bench piece for the Hornets because of the offensive and defensive mix he can bring as soon as he steps onto the court. Age is probably the deciding factor here, Caleb is already 25 and for a rebuilding team like Charlotte it is probably better to bet on a younger player like McDaniels.

The fight between the two will surely be one to watch as both players produce a fun yet competitive style of basketball. Keep in mind that because of covid and a really hectic schedule James Borrego could make rotation less tight in order to avoid injuries and overload for the core players.

2020-21 Player Preview: Malik Monk

Malik Monk, 6’3, 200 pounds, G

Malik Monk showed some signs of life last year and improved his scoring from below the arc. He shot a career high on 2s last year (54.2%) which was up from 46.1% the year before. Monk was really good this past year at finishing at the rim and shooting from midrange. From zero to three feet, Monk shot a career high 67.1%. He also was getting there more last year with 28.7% of his shots coming in that range. He was truly incredible at the rim despite his size:

Monk was said to have added strength last year and while he doesn’t look particularly bigger to the eye, he was able to use this added strength to finish against bigs like the play above.

Here Monk showcases his burst and body control, blowing by the defender and shifting in the air to make the sweet finish.

Monk uses the stop and start dribble to get to the rim and finish.

Monk always had the athleticism to make plays like this. He’s a good cutter and has some utility as a vertical spacer with plays like these.

Monk’s blend of burst, jumping ability, and body control allows him to be a really good finisher at the rim for his size. In addition, he was able to shoot over 40% from shots in the midrange and showed his scoring prowess. Monk projected as a three level scorer in the league and he seems to have the first two levels down. However, the three point shot has failed him so far in the league.

As I talked about in last year’s player preview, the three point shot is the big factor for him. Monk was an excellent shooter at Kentucky so it seemed like a sure bet that it would translate. It still hasn’t. It got even worse last year as he shot a career low 28.4% from three. The three point shooting is the money maker for Monk. Defenses still treat him like a shooter which is good but at some point, he has to start cashing in. It’s year four. If Monk can get to being an above average three point shooter, he can be a true three level scorer and wreak havoc on bench units.

With added three point shooting, Monk’s improved playmaking will shine more and he can become the complete offensive player that we expected him to be. Monk’s feel on defense is pretty good but he’s too small to be a positive on that end aside from a steal or block every now and then. He has to be a big positive on the offensive end to be good in this league and he is almost there. The outline of a good offensive player is there. With good three point shooting, Monk will be able to be a good spot up threat and also leverage his athleticism by attacking closeouts. Because the Hornets have a lot of good playmakers, Monk should have many opportunities to attack closeouts and generate highlights. The three point shot just has to come around. Monk has good ball skills as well and better three point shooting shooting should open up his pick and roll game. Monk still has the potential to be a devastating on and off ball scorer.

Monk is in a contract year so I am sure he will get a lot of run in the second unit so that the Hornets can see what they have in him. Personally, I think we should probably check the trade market to see what we can get for him, especially if he excels early. Depending on the development of LaMelo Ball and his fit with Devonte’ Graham, we could see Te’ transition to more of a sixth man role that he would really excel at (his ideal role in his prime in my opinion). That leaves Monk kind of out of it. With so many guards on the roster, I expect to see a lot of trade rumors around Monk this year. Who knows if he actually gets traded but here’s to hoping that he can continue to improve as a shooter.

2020-21 Player Preview: Jalen McDaniels

After a promising rookie season, Jalen McDaniels is now ready to establish his role into the Hornets 10 man rotation. In the end of last year he displayed a good amount of useful traits that he can bring to the table as a forward in todays NBA.

James Borrego and the front office opted to develop him with the Greensboro Swarm for the large part of the 2019-20 season and that appears to have worked out pretty well. McDaniels used that period to improve his body condition and his confidence with Charlotte schemes both offensively and defensively. The measurables and skillsets are there. The only thing in question is if when he gets stable minutes from the bench for this team can he be a reliable contributor?

The coaching staff, during preseason, made clear that the rotation will be composed at large by ten players, especially in the first months of this season. This means that McDaniels is actually fighting for his minutes with his former G-League teammate, Caleb Martin. During friendly games they were used alternatively as Borrego wanted to play the one who was more in a groove between the two. This could be repeated as the season progresses.

Nothing is set in stone and McDaniels will need to push on what he does best in order to find some sort of continuity. First of all, he will need to shoot the ball with consistency from the three point line. In his college career he wasn’t known for being a shooter, but as his NBA career has developed, he kept on working on this part of the game and that is paying dividends. Charlotte already has players who can handle the ball, score and create shots for others. As the 10th player on a rotation your main job is to turn your little opportunities into gold, especially with three point shots.

In the four preseason games his mechanics from distance looked great, a clear improvement from last season. Fluid, high release point, good legs positioning, you don’t see many 6′ 10” players with this type of coordination. I am pretty confident that McDaniels will be able to space the floor as requested for every minute he is playing with this team.

Offensively there is another great trait that the Hornets lack that he can bring from the bench, offensive rebounding. With his length and IQ he is always ready to contest the offensive glass and give the team extra possessions. Borrego stressed the importance of attacking offensive rebounds and McDaniels fits this roll better than the majority of the Hornets players.

The main reason they can give him a good amount of minutes is related to his unique defensive ability. As we said before he is really fluid for being a 6′ 10” player and that helps him in the 1-5 switching scheme the Hornets are trying to have right now. His length is also near perfect for a small ball five, as Borrego is trying to exploit PJ Washington into that role much more than last year. The mix of IQ, awareness, length and athleticism is really interesting with McDaniels and could make for a very useful player.

This defensive possession from his rookie year is really impressive. He’s always on point even if he is forced into different coverages by the opponents. If he keeps on improving his frame the ways that the Hornets could use him becomes very interesting. You could have with him as the power forward or even as a situational small ball five.

If it were up to me I am choosing McDaniels over Caleb Martin as the last guy to crack this year rotation. Age and defense are big factors into this decision, and his versatility could really help Charlotte on a day to day basis.

2020-21 Player Preview: LaMelo Ball

Well it appears the cat has finally caught the mouse. The cat being the Charlotte Hornets and the mouse being a player that we may consider a face of the franchise that is. Hornets fans around the globe will remember the 2020 draft night for a long time. For the first time in forever(?), things finally went our way and for most people, we got the guy who we thought was the best player in the class. That player being LaMelo Ball of course.

The question at hand is, can he live up to this hype?

Personally speaking, while I do have high expectations for Ball, I recognize that he also has his limitations and may not be a true #1 option on a contending team, feel free to prove me wrong of course. I think he’s your #2 guy. This isn’t a bad thing, all I’m saying is he may not be THE guy who you can look to when it’s a 1 point game with time expiring. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to be an absolute stud. He does. It’s weird. I’ll break it down some more in the later paragraphs.

We all know his story by now, if you’re a basketball fan and you don’t, then you’ve been living under a rock. At just 19 years of age the kid has 6x the amount of instagram followers as the actual Hornets instagram account. Thats also more than Mavs superstar Luka Doncic, also right on the heels of back to back MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo. While only playing four preseason games, this kid can already be considered a “star” in terms of media presence. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Hornets highlights on big media sites this often before. Again, four preseason games. He hit back to back 3s the other day and that YouTube video has more views than Kemba Walkers best scoring highlights.

However this isn’t an article about Ball’s instagram followers and how many likes he can get the Hornets on Twitter. This is about what he can bring to the court and what we should expect this in his rookie season. Already laying the foundation of his stardom, it’s easy for some people to be blinded by who he is as a player. Talking to some people, you can infer that they haven’t seen Ball play since he was in high school. Thinking that he’ll have easy success from three point range, or that scoring at an extremely high clip is to be expected from him.

When in reality, most of us probably understand that just isn’t his game anymore. Although… he may think that it is at times. The first exhibition match against Orlando showed that he is not afraid to put some shots up and it truly was a joy to watch. He posted 18 points on 41%, going 4-9 from deep. That’s not too bad at all. It seems with each preseason game he’s got more of a feel for the pace of an NBA game.

In his first game against Toronto we saw him command the boards and dazzle us with his passing ability. Reeling in 10 rebounds and adding 4 assists. His ability to attack the ball at its highest point and immediately transition that into a fast break is extremely elite. Apologies for the quality, but it’s the only clip I could find. See below.

Raptors do a good job of getting back on D there but, he’s going to catch plenty of teams off guard starting breaks like that. Through these four games, Ball hasn’t exactly jumped off the stat sheet in terms of assists, but that’s not really his fault. Preseason sloppiness and unit rotations are likely playing a big role in that, once he inevitably gets into the starting lineup box score watchers may be very pleased. He processes what’s happening in the game very quickly. You can see on those football passes he just takes 1 quick glance and knows where to place it.

I’m not entirely sure he knows how to pass without adding flair to it.

The behind the backs and the alley-oops have all just been fun, and I love it. Scoring is probably the main that thing that I have some concern over. This is the reason why I stated he may not end up being a true #1 primary initiator, but it may not be as bad as I initially thought. He may not be lethal (yet) but in these past couple games, especially in the first Orlando game he’s shown that when he is set, he can get his shot to fall, as I said earlier, knocking down 4 deep balls.

Playing with Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier more than in the first two games worked pretty well for Ball. Having a guy on the court like Graham forces the defense to pay him more mind than Ball at the moment, giving him openings like above. The below 3 instances are probably the closest thing we have so far to him “creating” his own shot. Michael Carter-Williams lets him take that 3 pretty much but I’ll personally count that as a shot off dribble.

While everyone raved about that ugly jumpshot falling, I was more impressed by these three finishes at the rim.

Those are three layups that I honestly expected to see in games 1 and 2. While Ball was in Australia, I felt like I had seen enough to believe that he could be an OKAY finisher around the rim even though most people thought otherwise. With such a long and skinny frame he’s able to manipulate his body into odd angles to allow him to finish such difficult layups, but other factors cause him to not be able to create more of these opportunities. I feel like those layups should NOT go in, but he’s able to make it work and has done so before.

This may be what propels him into actual stardom. When that shot isn’t falling, can you still find other ways to score? So far, his floaters look horrible. It’s okay, we’ll work on that, but having the ability to get layups like those to go at such a young age I think is huge. Hopefully he can do so with some consistency.

Moving over to the defensive side of the ball I’m actually pleasantly surprised with him so far. Labeled as unwilling to play defense coming into the draft (for good reason), so far he has at least shown that he is willing to buy into James Borrego’s system and try on defense. It hasn’t been pretty at times and I feel he tries to play hero ball resulting in some open looks, but you can say for certain that he is active. He plays defense like he’s a high school free safety.

Loved this sequence from the Orlando game.

So that’s pretty much what I mean when I say he tries to play hero ball on defense. He’s over-helped and left Cole Anthony who was cooking from 3 wide open in the corner. He did this plenty of times during this game and got burnt for it. On this occasion it works and he gets the offense moving full speed in transition. If Cody Zeller doesn’t trip up that’s probably 2 points. On one hand I love the aggression but he has to be careful with who he tries to bait down there. Leaving MCW wide open in the corner is one thing, Cole Anthony is another.

He’s also been horrible in navigating screens, but that’s something we can work as he bulks up and just get more PT. Overall though, much better than anticipated. You would have to believe that his high basketball IQ allows him to play defense the way he does. Knowing when to swipe or knowing when to get in lanes can be beneficial, but smart players will kill him. He can’t leave a man like that playing against the leagues best. Also at 6’8 I would bank on him being at the very least a capable on-ball defender, being able to guard both the 1 and 2 and hopefully the 3 later into his career once the weight starts to come.

So what can we expect this season from LaMelo Ball? I would say what you already know. Get ready for a fun year. It’s going to be flashy, it may not be pretty at times, but this will be a league pass favorite for some non-hornets fans. His ability to push the ball quickly, extravagant passes and crafty finishing will leave many mesmerized.

On the other hand box score watchers may be put off. I wouldn’t expect a high scoring average from him. I could see around 12-14 PPG, 6 assists, 5 rebounds. I think that’s a pretty solid rookie season. I am in the camp that thinks he’ll win rookie of the year, but that may just be me homering. I think there’s going to be games where he just goes ballistic and drops an absurd amount of points, which will have voters making their minds up off of those few performances. Again, it’s only the preseason and his highlights are EVERYWHERE.

With all that said. Where can I buy some Big Baller Brand gear?

2020-21 Player Preview: Grant Riller

Grant Riller, 6’3, 190 pounds, G

Grant Riller was drafted by the Hornets with the 56th overall pick in the draft. This was a major fall as most reputable NBA draft sites had him going higher. Some draft boards even had Riller as a potential lottery talent. It seems like the Hornets got a potential steal. Let’s dive into his game and see how he fits with the Hornets today and in the future.

Grant Riller was one of the best scorers in college basketball last year, averaging 21.9 points a game on 61% true shooting. Riller can score the ball in a variety ways because of his blend of burst, strength, balance, and ball-handling ability. Riller was at his best as pick and roll scorer, ranking in the 97th percentile as a P&R ball-handler per synergy. Riller also did damage in isolation (84th percentile) and as a spot up shooter (96th percentile).

Riller really shines with his ability to put pressure at the rim. In the half court, Riller put up 71 shots at the rim this year and converted on 41 of them (63.4%) which ranks in the 88th percentile. Especially at his size, this is incredible. The numbers make sense when you see plays like these:

Riller shows his pick and roll craft here. He gives the defender a tough in and out dribble and is able to use his strength to finish over the big.

Beautiful work here from Riller on with the euro step finish around the big.

Another terrific in and out dribble from Riller here and he accelerates to the rim for a beautiful finish.

The guy is a special scorer off the dribble. His bag is deep. Passing isn’t his strong suit but he is able to make basic reads and because of his scoring, those reads are easier with the attention he draws. His defense wasn’t great in college but the hope is that it can be salvageable as his usage goes down in the NBA.

For the Hornets, Grant Riller brings rim attacking that they desperately need. Malik Monk was the only player on that roster capable of putting pressure on the rim this past year. Riller’s spot up shooting is also a good sign for him as this will allow him to play with the multiple ball-handlers that the Hornets currently employ.

It would be interesting to see a LaMelo Ball-Riller backcourt (at least offensively) because Ball’s elite passing ability can cover up for Riller’s shortcomings as a passer and Riller’s rim pressure should help Ball as he currently isn’t adept at it. Because of the current guard rotation though, I don’t see many minutes for Riller at least this year. Ball, Devonte’ Graham, and Terry Rozier’s spots in the rotation are pretty solidified. Cody Martin plays at the two in some lineups. Monk is in a contract year so I’m sure the Hornets will give him a lot of run to see if they want to offer a second contract to him. Riller most likely won’t play a lot this year but if he does, get ready to see a guy who can really fill it up.

2020-21 Player Preview: Vernon Carey JR & Nick Richards

During the 2020 NBA Draft the Charlotte Hornets selected two big men with the 32nd and the 56th picks. Agree or not with this choice the team needed to address the void in the Center position. This strategy will probably take a long time to give some results but there is one thing that it’s worth to be underlined: using two second round picks for centers mean that the front office does not want to spend much money on a position which is considered not that valuable. This is surely a gamble by Mitch Kupchak and the team. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo must act as role models in order to unlock their development.

Vernon Carey JR is just 19 years old and he is likely the player with more upside between these two. In his only season at Duke he was very productive on the offensive side, ending the year averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds. His skillset is pretty wide as he displayed a good post game while stepping out with some range. Defense is the key for him to survive in the league. During the summer he declared that he worked on his weight losing almost 30 pounds. His brief outings in the preseason confirmed that this new frame can pay dividends as James Borrego wants a player with good mobility in the center position.

Nick Richards, who is already 23 years old, should be much more ready to contribute especially on the defensive end. During three seasons at Kentucky he was the team anchor on defense and showed good instincts as a rim protector. Richards frame is NBA ready, his measurements were outstanding during the Draft Combine. Offensively he is very raw and will play a rim runner role in his first years in with the Hornets. During team interviews he declared that he is working on his three point range which Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari held down during his college years.

Their roles will probably be very similar during the 2020-21 season. As preseason displayed, Borrego is set with Zeller and Biyombo as rotation centers with some situational minutes to PJ Washington in order to unlock small ball power. Their development will probably be hurt by the absence of a real G-League tournament this year. Charlotte uses their affiliate team to give young players opportunities to grow and develop their confidence and game. In case Zeller starts missing some games because of his well known physical problems one of those two young centers will be thrown into the rotation.

Carey is the one with more hopes of growth because of his really intresting offensive skillset. The problem with him is that it is really hard to project him as a full time 5 with the defensive issues that he displayed during college: first of all lack of rim protection. His weight loss will surely give him more mobility and explosiveness in order to survive on the hard switching scheme used by Borrego.

Nick Richards is a high floor and low upside type of pick. There is not much room for development aside from his possible three point range addition. On the other side, he may be able to provide a good amount of straight defense, rim protection and rebounding as soon as he steps on a basketball court.

It won’t be that easy for them to settle into the NBA rhythm and physicality in this situation. They played their last college game a long time ago and they had a really small preseason window. Let’s not be rude with them and their production especially in the first period of this year. The Hornets already showed trust in their two rookies giving both of them the classic 4 year second rounder contract, front office knows and hopes that they could be part of this young group and contribute on the long term as they develop together.